JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before the Indianapolis Colts season opener in Jacksonville, teammates linked arms on the sideline at TIAA Bank Field and Head Coach Frank Reich took a knee “on behalf of the Black communities of Indiana…and all Black communities from where our players and coaches call home.”
“It was a decision we talked through as a team,” said Reich following the Colts 27-20 loss to the Jaguars. “We thought it was a unique way to express what needs to be done. Someone like myself, a white leader, would kneel in a posture not of defiance but out of humility to acknowledge that some work needs to be done. That we can’t leave things the way they are. It takes all of us, everybody, but certainly white leaders really have an opportunity to step up and make a big change as far as systemic racism is concerned.”
“That definitely means a lot,” said linebacker Darius Leonard. “You know, we’re not talking to the Black community. We are trying to speak to white men who’s in power. White people who’s in power. Frank is the leader of this team. And he’s in power to this team. We got to take that step forward. He’s the one who said, ‘Okay, it’s got to start with me.’”
“As a team we decided to try to make a statement together,” said Running Back Jonathan Taylor. “We stand by the decision one-hundred percent. That’s just a way we are going to attack the issues at hand and in our nation in today’s world.”
The Colts issued a statement that read, “We were not protesting the flag, the anthem or the men and women who wear the uniform. The timing of this action is meant to highlight that the presence, power and oppression of racism remains inconsistent with the unity and freedoms of what it means to be an American.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett tweeted during the game, “It’s great to live in a city where our team has made us proud before they even step on the field.”
Many of the tweets in response to the mayor’s message did not address social injustice as much as they were criticisms leveled at Hogsett.
Mat Davis of the Indiana Racial Justice Alliance said that while the Colts response was appreciated, it was directed primarily at NFL issues and did not advance the struggle for equality in American society as a whole.
“I definitely think that what we saw today from particularly the Colts and others was a very, very important gesture that signals something can change,” he said. “It is very significant to have management and the owners of teams come out, particularly the Colts for this city, to come out and say, ‘We support a broader conversation about social justice in relation to sports.’
“Colin Kaepernick’s ghost still haunts the NFL as a league,” said Davis, referring to the retired NFL quarterback who helped launch the league’s social justice movement while kneeling on the sidelines as a San Francisco 49er in 2016.
“He is still a free agent. He still does not have a job. He was blackballed for speaking about these very issues, because he was kneeling about these very issues in the same manner than now NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Colts owner Jim Irsay and the rest of the league are trying to kneel and speak about the issues.
“If we see these older white males who really represent the perspective of yesteryear kneeling in solidarity with which part, the players movement or the movement for black lives, you can’t have one without the other.
“There are more things to do. There is more work to be done. I think what we saw today is a gesture towards giving more players the green light to join the players movement within the NFL.”